Study examines health benefits of wearable tech for over-55s

An Open University project will investigate whether wearable technology could play an important role in improving the health of older people.

The research will follow a group of people aged over 55 using a range of digital health-monitoring technologies, including activity trackers and smartwatches.

It will also investigate whether existing wearables are sufficiently accessible and appealing to older users, and how they could be made more age-friendly.

“We want to try and understand what benefits these devices may bring in terms of helping older people to monitor their health, maintain their mobility, even improve their social interactions,” explained Shailey Minocha, Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Computing, who is leading the study.

“We also want to understand the difficulties — do older people have access to the technology to download the data from these devices? Are the displays so small that older people can’t read them? Are the appearances of the devices acceptable to older people and are they designed to fit in with their lifestyle?”

According to the Open University, the study will also involve relatives, carers and health professionals who may be involved in downloading or interpreting data from these devices, exploring the challenges they face and the issues of privacy and ethical dilemmas.

The researchers plan to develop recommendations which can be used by the fitness tracking industry in product development, and by healthcare professionals in their practice.

Discussing the potential benefits of the technology for older people, Professor Minocha said:

“In future, these devices will play an important role in older people’s wellbeing. They could help to prevent strokes; or help a doctor monitor someone to determine if they are fit enough to undergo chemotherapy; or if the patient is keeping themselves mobile enough for sustained recovery after a medical intervention.

“We see this research as a small project which has the potential for a very high impact in digital health. This is particularly in areas such as developing ethical principles and practices of sharing and using data from these devices for remote monitoring or diagnosis.”

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